If You Build It, They Will Shred

If you’re a mountain biker and Bentonville, Arkansas isn’t on your bucket list, it’s time to plan a road trip. The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), a trail access and advocacy organization, held its World Summit in Bentonville and attendees had the opportunity to explore this rapidly ascending mountain bike wonderland. There are literally hundreds of miles of riding accessible within minutes of the center of town. You can start off from the trendy Onyx Coffee Lab, ride 30 seconds and have access to the Slaughter Pen trail network where you’ll find purpose-built mountain bike trails that combine traditional singletrack and new school flow features. And all of the trails are masterfully built and maintained by the local community with support from local shops and businesses like the Walton Family Foundation.

It seemed like everyone in Bentonville was a mountain biker and they had picked up a shovel to work on the trails at least once. That supportive community and plentiful trails created a positive feedback loop that engendered even more support for the sport. Mountain biking in Bentonville is a way of life and it’s growing fast. They were finishing up a new network of cross country trail called the Back Forty when we were there and it was already designated as an IMBA Epic ride.

“We have a lot of old school hand cut trails. They’ve been around since 1997,” said local rider Noel Howard. Noel spoke warmly of the growth he’s since then and isn’t shy about sharing what he’s got.

I love running into people from out of town on trails.

He echoed a sentiment heard around the community: the locals put a lot of sweat into building these trails and they want to share what they’ve created with the world. And they’ve created a lot. In addition to those old school cross country style trails that Noel can ride for hours, there are modern flow trails with immaculate machine built jumps and berms like at the Lake Atalanta trails. There are technical trails featuring wooden drops and ramps in the new sections of the Slaughter Pen trails. There’s even a large bike park in the nearby town of Rogers, where young shredders rode strider bikes on a pump track and teenagers flew over gap jumps. The geography of NW Arkansas means there isn’t anything resembling Whistler, BC or Virgin, Utah, but there’s plenty of year-round riding to keep people of all skill levels smiling from ear to ear.

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Ryan Leech, Hans Rey and Danny MacAskill put on a show at the Railyard bike park in Rogers.

Another local rider Jason  Zehner has lived in Bentonville since 2004 and caught the mountain biking bug after moving to the town. He’s watched the sport explode in his short time here. “A lot of this has been built in the past 12 years,” Jason said of the hundreds of miles of singletrack. And he didn’t just watch the trail network expand around him, he was out there on the frontier with a shovel and a hatchet.

I love how intermeshed our community is.

“It’s a very family-oriented mountain bike community. There’s a lot of organization that happens between FAST [Friends of Arkansas Single Track], the OORC [Ozark Off Road Cyclists] and the Walton Foundation. It’s awesome to see people who are spreading the passion for mountain biking.”

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Jason’s experience is another example of the positive feedback loop in Bentonville. He moved to the city, got into riding because of the existing trails and soon found himself expanding the network and getting even more riders on bikes.

The main motivating factor for everyone is the simple joy of riding. Jesse Livingston and Herman Owens of the IMBA Arkansas Trail Crew help maintain over 250 miles of the state’s designated epics. And they shared a secret they use to get more riders out to builds.

One of the biggest motivators is using Strava out on the trails.

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“Because we go out and maintain them so they’re cleaner and better built than they’ve ever been. And then we find the segments where the fun descents are and we nab the KOMs,” said Jesse and Herman with a laugh. The competition is all in good fun and is just another element that bonds this community together.

If you haven’t already, go ahead and pull out your mountain biking bucket list and put Bentonville on there. Come to ride a huge variety of quality trails, but take back with you the lessons in community organization that have made this place great. Get involved in your local mountain biking community, help build some trails and if you’re lucky, the next destination to add to the bucket list might be in your own backyard.

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